For whatever reason, each decade of the 20th century was imbued with a distinct flavour. Whether it’s the motor cars and severe fringes of the ‘roaring’ 1920s or the drug culture and bellbottoms of the ‘swinging’ ’60s, there’s always something unique that allows us to separate these ten-year chunks into neat aesthetic categories. One of the most common cultural features we tend to pick up on in this regard is music. Although, for director David Lynch, there’s one decade he wishes had never existed.
Apart from maybe fashion, there’s no better way of tracing the cultural and societal changes of a nation than through its songs. A blues record from the 1930s will sound utterly unlike a hip-hop track from the 1990s. Music is a mirror to society, and everything that affects society affects music. Technological innovations extend the range of instruments and textures artists have to play with, just as changing societal attitudes alter what subjects they decide to sing about.
The 20th century was a period of rapid technological and societal development, so every ten years or so the sonic landscape tended to shift. Perhaps that’s why we spend so much time arguing about which decade had the best music: because each one had such a strong identity. At least, that’s how it seems from today’s vantage point.
Speaking in 1984 ahead of the release of his Dune adaptation, David Lynch opened up about his passion for the days of Elvis, Chuck Berry and Roy Orbison with Playboy Magazine. “The ’50s are just about it for me. I like the Beatles, but once they came in, everything changed in an OK way. I prefer the pre-Beatles era, even back to the ’20s. From the ’20s up to 1958, or maybe 1963, are my favourite years. Anything that happens in there I would find moods that I would just totally love.”
When it comes to the 1970s, however, Lynch wasn’t so enthusiastic: “The ’70s, to me, were about the worst!” he continued. “There can be things in the ’80s that I love—high-tech things, new wave things which echo the ’50s. But the’ 70s—it just seems to be totally like leather and hair. There’s nothing there. The ’50s is ‘closer to the original idea’ of what rock and roll is. So, there’s power in that original idea.”
Lynch strikes me as a musical purist, and not even the ‘the Beatles were the best band who ever lived’ kind of purist; we’re talking about the kind of music fan who regards tracks like The Who’s ‘My Generation’ as being a bit too heavy: “I like early Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino,” he continued. “I like all these, like, girl groups: the Ronnettes, the Chiffons and the Marvelettes. I like ‘Mr. Postman’ and Little Richard’s ‘Bebopaloobop’.” This is the Ronnie Rocket thing, but it’s strange, “twisted” ’50s.